Superfund site specific: Pollution play staged beside Gowanus

Superfund site specific: Pollution play staged beside Gowanus
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

It’s not just the feds who are dredging up issues in Gowanus.

A community theater group is turning its venue into subtext by taking over an industrial warehouse just feet away from the mouth of the filthy Gowanus Canal to stage a play about a village facing health problems from contaminated waters.

Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 political thriller, “An Enemy of the People” — set in a Norwegian waterside village that discovers harmful runoff is ruining its economically vital public baths and harming denizens — draws striking parallel’s to the issues and concerns of communities along the Gowanus Canal, said director Reg Flowers.

And the timing couldn’t be better, as details of the Environmental Protection Agency’s half-billion dollar Superfund cleanup proposal for the fetid waterway are bubbling up.

“It’s a waterside community that is being asked to face a truth about the state of their health and the environmental conditions that they are living in,” said Flowers.

“There is a question of how the issue is going to be dealt with once it is discovered that the water is poisonous.”

The longtime director and actor — and member of Falconworks Artists Group that is producing the play — said the main reason for setting up a makeshift theater on John Quadrozzi Jr.’s industrial complex at the foot of Columbia Street is the community’s concern over a federal proposal to decontaminate sludge dredged from the canal on the site and use it to build a massive concrete landmass extending off the shore of Red Hook.

For use of his property during the lengthy cleanup, Quadrozzi would gain control of the newly built landfill after the project wraps up.

“This site is so much at the center of the discussion. It makes sense that the play is there,” said Flowers who will be playing the role of a noble doctor eventually declared “the enemy of the people” for exposing the health threat.

Flowers said that his adaptation of the play, which will be performed by a cast of professional actors and community activists five times in May, stays true to the original script and setting of the play, but uses language that alludes to the federal government’s cleanup of the inlet.

But don’t expect any overt references to the Lavender Lake during the two and a half-hour performance.

“Once we start talking about contaminated water because of the industry and once we start talking about dredging the reservoir and relaying the conduit piping, I think its going to be pretty clear to people what the matter at hand is,” said Flowers.

“An Enemy of the People” at the Gowanus Bay Terminal [699 Columbia St. past Otsego street in Red Hook, (718) 395–3218, enemyofthepeople.eventbrite.com]. May 2, 3, 8 pm, May 4, 3 pm, 8 pm, May 5, 3 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.